June 5, 2003 10:49 AM PDT

T-Mobile's Sidekick springs into color

T-Mobile plans to start selling on Friday the color version of Danger's Sidekick gadget, along with a broader range of monthly plans for the unit, which acts as a cell phone, a Web browser and an instant-messaging and e-mail device.

With the new service plans, customers can get unlimited usage of the device's unlimited e-mail, Web surfing and AOL instant messaging functions, with any T-Mobile rate plan for an extra $20 a month. T-Mobile also is offering a data-only option for $29.95 a month, with any voice minutes billed at 20 cents a minute. Previously, Sidekick owners had to choose from one of two rate plans that included unlimited data and a set number of voice minutes for between $40 and $60 a month.

Though the "Hiptop" device's progression to color was expected, T-Mobile's new rate plans may come as a surprise to the gadget's fans. The color unit--which also features more memory and a faster processor than the monochrome original--will sell for $299. The device will initially be available through T-Mobile or CompUSA.

"I think the data plans that T-Mobile has come up with are really killer," Danger CEO Henry "Hank" Nothhaft said in a telephone interview. In particular, Nothhaft noted, the data-only plan will appeal to the deaf community, which has been a strong market for the Sidekick. Until now, though, deaf users have been paying for voice minutes that they don't need.

Danger, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up, won't say how many of the soap bar-size devices it has sold.

"We're a private company and enjoying every minute of it," Nothhaft said.

Adding a color screen fulfills one of the most popular requests from consumers. Research In Motion just launched its first color BlackBerry in Europe.

Another key request has been the ability to synchronize contacts and e-mail with Microsoft Outlook, but Nothhaft would not give a timeframe for when that might be available.

Nothhaft said the company's two main priorities now are signing deals with carriers and launching a new version of the device's operating system that makes it easier to add software to the device, which is known generically as the Hiptop. T-Mobile is the main Hiptop carrier, although Triton PCS--a regional AT&T Wireless affiliate in the southeastern United States--has launched a service selling the black-and-white Hiptop. T-Mobile has stopped selling the monochrome device, and will now sell only the color model.

In a press release, T-Mobile said several celebrities have been sporting the device, and quoted Yankees' all-star shortstop Derek Jeter.

"It's everything at your fingertips in one device," said Jeter, the Bronx Bombers' newly named captain. "No more excess gadgets, and it's all in color."

Danger is in the process of trying to decide whether to do a CDMA version of the device. On the one hand, Nothhaft said that the company has limited resources and would have to delay another product to create a CDMA device. At the same time, as a small U.S. company, it is best able to launch products in the United States, where CDMA networks account for half or more of the market.

Danger raised $35 million in new funding in February, saying at the time that it would use the money to land and support new carrier deals. So far, the company has raised more than $77 million.

 

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